4 December 2012

Swaziland: Death Penalty Test for Human Rights

Two more men have been sentenced to hang in Swaziland this past week.

This comes after Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, told a United Nations group that although the kingdom retained the death penalty it was 'abolitionist in practice'.

The men, both named Simelane, were involved in separate cases before the courts. David Simelane had his conviction for killing 28 women and children over a period of about 10 years upheld by the Supreme Court.

The other man, Mciniseli Jomo Simelane, was convicted by the Swazi High Court of killing a seven-month-old baby when he set fire to a house.

The death sentences once again put the spotlight on Swaziland's human rights record.

In October 2011, Swaziland was heavily criticised at the UN Universal Periodic Review into human rights in the kingdom for continuing to have the death penalty.

Gamedze told the UN that although the death penalty existed in Swaziland the last execution had been in 1983. He said this showed that the kingdom was abolitionist in practice.

But, in April 2012, Gamedze told the Times of Swaziland the kingdom would not follow the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and abolish the death penalty. Gamedze said for the time being, the kingdom was not ready to accede to the convention.

He said at the time that David Simelane would not hang, unless the Supreme Court dismissed his appeal against the death penalty. Simelane has now lost that appeal.

International anti-capital punishment groups estimate that about seven people are waiting for execution on 'death row' in Swaziland.

Contrary to Gamedze's assertion that Swaziland is abolitionist, the kingdom has been advertising on and off for years to appoint a hangman. But so far, no one has been given the job.

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